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When we really think about the Earth there are multiple images that can spring to mind. The most popular, however, is probably the world of David Attenborough where there are fabulous landscapes, wonderful wildlife and fascinating glimpses into secret places we never previously knew existed. It is a world that fills us with awe, where even the presenter speaks in such tones of hushed reverence that it's almost as though we were entering some sacred, holy place. From the comfort of our home we can scale the highest mountain peaks, trek across miles of wind-blown desert, or descend into the lush gloom of forest and jungle. When we watch the DVDs of Planet Earth we are participating in a monument path-working created for our delectation by the BBC!
Mountains form the most spectacular creations on the planet and cover such a large amount of Earth's landmass that they can clearly be identified from outer space. Mountains are also a perfect reminder that humans count for nothing in the greater scheme of things. They were formed by tectonic plate upheavals of such magnitude that the fossilised remains of prehistoric sea creatures can be found on the top of them; in fact, many Himalayan rocks were originally sediments on the primordial Tethys Ocean floor. And more recently, in 1980, a violent eruption tore apart the snow-capped peak of Mount St Helens in the USA, demonstrating the hugely powerful, and often devastating, internal workings of the Earth.
Nevertheless, these spectacular rocky elevations have an enduring fascination and until relatively recently in man's evolution, people saw mountains and volcanoes as the homes of wrathful gods, who vent their anger without warning, shaking the ground, and spewing fire, rocks and ash into the air. Today, science tells us otherwise but our fascination with them continues, and they remain impressive and constant reminders of the spectacular power of Earth's continuing evolution. (Luhr, Earth)
And from all this movement comes the riches of the planet that we take for granted. The core wealth of the planet is bored, mined, dug or blasted from the rocks to fuel an increasingly demanding global lifestyle; while a minimal amount of surface space is employed in sustaining the human race in its struggle to retain its tenuous grasp on the Earth. Let's make no bones about it, that grasp is tenuous since mankind is systematically destroying the one thing that has kept the planet safe for millennia – the forests.
Different types of forest are found in different regions of the world, from the dark boreal forest (taiga) which extends to the edge of the Arctic tundra, to the lush mixed broadleaf forests of temperate North America, Europe and Asia and the dense rainforests of the humid tropics. Forests also play a vital role in the global water and carbon cycles: in improving air quality, and in preventing soil erosion.
Of all the forests in the world, however, the one that we are the least familiar with is the gigantic boreal forest that is found in a nearly continuous belt across North America and Eurasia. Nearer to home we have a remnant in what is known as the Caledonian Forest, which takes its name from the Romans who called Scotland 'Caledonia' meaning wooded heights and which covered much of the Highlands and what we know as the Cairngorms National Park today. Those Scots Pine are directly descended from the first pines, that arrived in Scotland following the Late Glacial period around 7000 BCE and formed the westernmost outpost of the boreal forest in Europe.
Spreading over continents this vast acreage covers most of inland Canada and Alaska, most of Sweden, Finland and inland Norway, much of Russia, and the northern parts of Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Japan. Representing 29% of the world's forest cover, the boreal forest – named after Boreas, the Greek god of the North wind – plays a significant role in the planet's biodiversity and even its climate. And not only is the Forest a living, breathing thing, it is also home to countless beliefs, customs and superstitions of the native peoples that have inhabited this inhospitable climate for thousands of years. And the North was known as the Place of Power from ancient times.
But that's just my personal take on Elemental Earth ...
The element of Earth is attached to the signs Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn, and all the earthy metaphors are appropriate here. Those graced by an Earth sign in their horoscope are practical, grounded and dependable. Apparently, these folks don't take big risks; rather, they much prefer a sure thing. But when we look behind the astrological symbolism of these Earth Signs, however, it paints a very different picture when we examine the magical correspondences associated with each Sign. For example:
The Bull is one of the most powerful symbols on the planet and if we turn to Michael Rice's Power of the Bull, we find a primal archetype of force and movement, symbolising power in nature and a religious significance that can be traced to the earliest times. Rice's examination of the evidence from earliest prehistory onwards reveals the bull to be a symbol of thrusting energy, political authority, sexual potency, economic wealth and vast subterranean powers.
Bulls are impressive creatures as a trip to any County Show will reveal but even these can't compare with the ancestor of the modern bull – the aurochs. This bull was an immense beast standing two metres to the shoulder and weighing upwards of one tonne of powerfully developed and co-ordinated flesh, muscle and bone. A formidable opponent in the chase, the aurochs must have been the cause of the loss of life of more hunters than any other of their customary prey. It was also the ultimate sacrificial animal.
According to Rice, the Epoch of the Bull (c. 4000–2000 BCE) was a period of extraordinary unity of ideas and of the means of carrying them into effect, over a very extensive part of the ancient world. For thousands of years the bull, either literally represented or abstracted in symbolic form, dominated the art of the Near East. While primitive cave art reveals some remarkable images of bulls in the numerous paintings and engravings found in European caves dating back to the Ice Age (Upper Paleolithic), roughly between 40,000 and 14,000 years ago. But it was in Egypt that the bull achieved what is perhaps its most exalted incarnation; its divinity is attested on its identification with the king and with the royal power.
Perhaps the most awesome, frightening and darkest image of the bull, however, is in that of the Minotaur, whose ancestry was both mysterious and far more complicated than his descent from an illicit Greek liaison. According to Rice, 'his forbears were the myriad of hybrid creatures which haunted the imaginations of the artists who sought to express elaborate and disturbing emotions thousands of years before the mythical Theseus entered the mythical Minotaur's subterranean lair'. Added to this we must also consider the points made by Michael Rice in The Power of the Bull that echo Karl Kerenyi's stellar reference The Gods of the Greeks to the Minoan name for the Minotaur as Asterion –'ruler of the stars'.
The bull leads his followers into some very dark caverns; literally so, since the bull is a chthonic creature ... But the bull also leads on to the stars, in what is surely his most arcane epiphany. The bull is a celestial creature as much as he is terrestrial; his presence among the stars has for a very long time been an element in magic and forecasting the future ...
In other words, he was a star, luminous and bright at the heart of the underworld that was the labyrinth; upon him was 'conferred the hope of a return to the light'. Asterion's death, Kerenyi suggests, was not the slaying of a monster; it was a dark sacrificial rite and this belief goes right back to the ancient stargazers of pre-history.
The bull later became another principal sacrificial animal in the rites associated with the cult of Mithras, which made so deep and lasting an impression on the world of late antiquity. Mithraism became firmly lodged in the Roman legions which, picking up its practices in their excursions into the eastern limits of the Empire, carried it westwards as far as the British Isles. The creation of the world is the central episode of Mithraic mythology. According to the myths, the sun god sent his messenger, the raven, to Mithras and ordered him to sacrifice the bull. Mithras executed the order reluctantly; in many reliefs he is seen turning aside his face in sorrow but at the very moment of the death of the bull, a great miracle happened. The white bull was metamorphosed into the moon; the cloak of Mithras was transformed into the vault of the sky with the shining planets and fixed stars.
From the time of the Chaldeans, some 5000 years ago, the zodiacal constellation of Taurus has been seen as a bull. The Greeks identified the constellation as Zeus disguised as a bull, in whose form he abducted Europa, daughter of Agenor, king of Phoenicia. The bull took off into the sea and swam to Crete where he made Europa his mistress. One of their three sons, Minos, later became king of Crete and founded the Minoan civilisation. Only the forequarters of the bull are visible in the constellation, as it is emerging from the waves.
The Virgin, figuratively or actually, is as much a symbol of sacrifice as the 'sacrificial god or king' in ancient superstition. The maiden is 'pure' according to the lights of her time and culture but it is probably safe to assume that it generally refers to an unmarried girl per se as opposed to a young married woman. In magical traditions it implies innocence, or concentration on spiritual things; or a reservoir of untapped force. Objects used in ritual magic are required to be 'virgin'. In fact, if we look at the image of the Princess of Disks (see below in Magical Images) there is nothing of the 'virgin martyr' in the symbology but rather: 'She is strong and beautiful, with an expression of intense brooding, as if about to become aware of secret wonder.'
Iphigenia, the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra was offered as a sacrifice to enable the weather-bound Greek fleet to sail for Troy. The seer Calchas declared that Artemis required the sacrifice and the girl was sent for on the pretext of her being married to Achilles. In some versions of the story, Clytemnestra wasn't a willing party to the deed and this was the reason she killed her husband on his return from the Trojan War – in revenge for her daughter's death.
Persephone, also known as Kore in Greek mythology, was carried off by Hades to be his queen in the netherworld. Her mother, Demeter's search and lamentations form the basis for the ancient Mysteries, and we could even say that Demeter also made the sacrifice when agreeing to Hades' demands that her daughter remain in the netherworld for half of the year. And this story lies at the root of the Eleusinian Mysteries that endured until Roman times.
The zodiacal constellation of Virgo is the only female among the Star Signs and is usually depicted holding an ear of wheat, or carrying the scales of Libra, the adjoining constellation.
Since the beginning of recorded history Virgo has been thought to represent a great array of deities – among others she has been identified with the Babylonian fertility goddess Ishtar; Astraea, the Roman goddess of justice, and Demeter, the Greek goddess of the harvest; none of whom is very 'virginal' in the accepted sense of the word. This is one of the 'mutable' signs in traditional astrology (the others being Gemini, Sagittarius and Pisces), so termed because the Sun is 'in' them at the times of the year when one season is changing into another – here at the Autumnal Equinox – when we celebrate the beneficence of the Great Mother.
The Goat is one of life's cultural strangenesses with plenty of bad press, and an indelible link to the 'dark side' – but not necessarily evil. The animal is sometimes a symbol of agility and sometimes obstinately insists on having its own way – but it is far better known for its proverbial lechery, its stench and its link with the Devil! Another devilish link can be found in both Classical and Jewish traditions; in the latter the goat is called Azazel – the scapegoat – who is formally loaded with the sins of the people and driven out into the wilderness.
This myth provides the link between Azazel and the Watchers – or the fallen angels who brought wisdom and light to the world that the jealous and wrathful Jehovah wanted to keep in blissful ignorance. Hence their expulsion from heaven and not to mention their lusting after mortal women! Azazel was the leader of the five Watchers and was associated with Mars. The Watchers were thought of as the 'sons of god' sent to Earth to watch over mankind and often appear as our personal Guardians. The most famous and evocative representation is the 'Guardians of Time' collection of hooded statues that were developed by the artist Manfred Kielnhofer, who is sure that mankind is watched and protected by these strange characters.
In Pan: Dark Lord of the Forest and Horned God of the Witches, it was Alan Richardson's evocative imagery that encapsulated what those Capricorns who seek out this elusive being might find.
As you read this, Pan is opening his strange eyes with those lucid, rectangular pupils, which give him huge peripheral vision. He is observing you very quietly. Look up from the page, look around. He is here, now. Believe what I say! Also be aware that at this same moment there is an Inner Pan within your psyche who yearns to be aware of things from this wider perspective, who aches to take you toward the dark recesses of your mind, and the wild, tangled undergrowth of your unconscious. As you make your own path into the Wild Woods in search of the Great Pan, your nape hairs might prickle, you might see things at the new edges of your vision and strange realms might open up. If you have a frisson of fear – you are on the right path. Keep going. There is light and love there too, in abundance. This book is filled with pleasing seeds and roots that have been collected from obscure, musty corners of the mythological and literary forest. Just brooding upon them ensures that they will be planted and grow in your consciousness, often in startling ways ...
The zodiacal sign of Capricornus has been named for a goat since the time of the Chaldeans and Babylonians. Sometimes it is shown as a goat, but more commonly it is depicted as a goat with the tail of a fish. Several thousand years ago, the Sun reached the southernmost position in the sky (in its Winter Solstice) when it was in front of Capricornus. During this time it was overhead at a southerly latitude we call the Tropic of Capricorn, which still carries this name, although the Sun, as a result of precession is now in Sagittarius at the time of the Winter Solstice.
Court Cards, or Royal Arcana, in the Tarot are often the most complex and confusing cards to interpret. Why? Because there are so many different ways to interpret them when relating to both the spiritual and/or the mundane. Many decks differ from one another in the attributions of the suites (alternatively Pentacles, Wands, Cups and Swords) and titles of the 'cast' (alternatively King, Queen, Knight and Page) although in all decks the suites correspond to each of the four elements. The following example comes from The Book of Thoth:
A young woman, crowned and throned – for purposes of meditation, the magical image can be represented by the Princess of Disks (Earth) as the element on the brink of Transfiguration. Crowley's own Thoth Tarot depicts her with a ram's horn helmet, with her sceptre descending into the Earth where the point becomes a diamond; her shield denotes the twin spiral forces of Creation in perfect equilibrium. 'She is strong and beautiful, with an expression of intense brooding, as if about to become aware of secret wonder.'
Or focus on the Prince of Disks (the Airy part of Earth) who is the element of Earth becoming intelligible with his chariot drawn by an ox, the sacred symbol to the Element Earth. A beautiful, naked man and very strong – he holds in his hand the sceptre to symbolise the bringing forth of that which is sustenance of the Spirit into the physical plane from above.
For meditation purposes, concentrate on the Queen of Disks (the Watery part of Earth), represented by a mature woman since she is the embodiment of the dogma that the Great Work is fertility and represents the ambition of matter to take part in the great work of Creation.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Pagan Portals The Power of the Elements"
Copyright © 2017 Mélusine Draco.
Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
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Table of Contents
In the Beginning … 1
Chapter 1 Elemental Earth 11
Chapter 2 Elemental Air 24
Chapter 3 Elemental Fire 39
Chapter 4 Elemental Water 53
Chapter 5 Element of Spirit 68
The End Is Our Beginning … 79
Sources & Bibliography 87